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Mustang
Mustang
DVD ~ Gunes Sensoy
Price: $17.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Some spirits cannot be broken, February 3, 2016
This review is from: Mustang (DVD)
Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (this is her first film) from a screenplay by Ergüven and Alice Winocour (Augustine), Mustang is a highly engaging and intimate film about five young sisters coming up against the cultural restrictions imposed by tradition on women in conservative rural Turkey, as seen through the eyes of - and narrated by - the youngest of the sisters, Lale.

In a small coastal town in rural Turkey, five young girls, sisters who were orphaned some years back, live with their grandmother and extended family. The film begins with the youngest sister, Lale (winningly played by Güne' 'ensoy), at school saying an emotional goodbye to her much loved female teacher Dilek (Bahar Kerimoglu) who is moving to Istanbul, the capital. Dilek gives her a piece of paper with her address in Istanbul, telling Lale to write now and then. As the girls walk home from school, they pause at the beach to play with some of the boys from their class, engaging in an innocent game of "horse" where the girls ride on the shoulders of the boys and try to push each other off. This seemingly innocuous event, however, has consequences, for when the girls reach home they are confronted by their grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) who is outraged by their "scandalous" behavior, having been informed of it by a neighbor. Their oppressive uncle Erol (Ayberk Pekcan) is even more outraged and proceeds to pull the girls from school and keep them at home under ever increasing restrictions until the house ultimately becomes their prison. The family proceeds to take away all "corrupting influences", which includes everything from their cell-phones and music to their schoolbooks and computer.

One of the things I liked was the way the script didn't reduce the characters to caricatures. The grandmother and the aunts mean well, trying in their traditional way to prepare the girls for what they believe a woman's role in life is, eagerly teaching them what they know about sewing, cooking, manners and such. And they're not unsympathetic. At one point one aunt, knowing how the girls have been cut off from their usual treats, shows Lale how to make Turkish chewing gum, which, to Lale's surprise, she actually finds she likes. And there are hints in the things the grandmother says that show she's not blind to what the girls are experiencing and is doing her best to prepare and at times protect them.

But the girls are still resistant, even though each act of resistance ends up with their lives becoming even more restricted, culminating in the grandmother's decision to find them husbands as quickly as possible.

Highly, highly recommended.


Legend [Blu-ray]
Legend [Blu-ray]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bravura double performance by Tom Hardy, but otherwise something of a mixed bag, January 3, 2016
This review is from: Legend [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (A Knight's Tale, L.A. Confidential) and adapted from the book by John Pearson (The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins), Legend is a film about the notorious Reggie and Ronnie Kray, twin brothers who came to dominate organized crime in London of the 1950's and 60's.

The film begins somewhere in the early 1960's when Reggie and Ronnie Kray (both played by Tom Hardy in a bravura double performance) were already established gangsters in London's East End but not yet the heads of organized crime they were to become. Reggie's main rivals are the Richardson brothers, but before he can deal with them he has to get his brother Ronnie out of a psychiatric hospital where he's been confined for his violent behavior. At the same time, he begins a relationship with a girl named Frances (Emily Browning), the younger sister of one of his henchmen, Frank Shea (Colin Morgan). When Reggie succeeds in getting Ronnie's release over the deep misgivings of the attending psychiatrist, Dr. Humphries (Nicholas Farrell), Humphries takes Reggie aside and warns him "Your brother Ron is violent and psychopathic and I suspect he's paranoid schizophrenic... to put it simply he's off his f[***]ing rocker!". He then hands Reggie a bottle of pills and desperately urges him "Make sure he takes these... or there'll be serious trouble!"

We soon see why Reggie wanted Ronnie free before confronting the Richardsons. Ronnie may be crazy, but he's absolutely fearless and capable of dishing out extreme violence in abundance, "a one-man mob" as Frances puts it in her narration. Not that Reggie is any slouch in that department. He's more polished and controlled - and certainly more sane - but beneath that surface he's just as capable of dealing out brutal violence as Ronnie.

But as impressive as Hardy's performances are, the film itself is decidedly uneven, particularly in the focus and the pacing, and as a bio-pic it falls short both in terms of the accuracy of the events it depicts and in some of the chronology. No effort is made to bring out any of the Kray's upbringing, or their early budding careers as boxers, or their telling experience in national service which was an early indicator of where they were heading in life. And no effort is made to give any perspective on the real nature - let alone extent - of their criminal organization, The Firm, how they made their money, and the grip it had on the London criminal scene.

It also fails to make good use of some of the other fine actors in the film. Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, Heroes, Elizabeth)'s Detective "Nipper" Read, is given very little to do except to give reaction shots and deliver stock lines like "We're going after the Krays." Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander, A Knight's Tale) is all but invisible as Kray rival Charlie Richardson. Chazz Palminteri (Bullets over Broadway, The Usual Suspects) comes across as flat and half-there in his two brief scenes as the American Mafioso Angelo Bruno who partners up with the Krays. Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Testament of Youth) has maybe four lines and a few knowing smirks and manic giggles as Edward "Mad Teddy" Smith, one of Ronnie Kray's gangster cronies who was, like him, gay and more than a bit mental. In truth, about the only other actor who gets any decent screen-time and dialogue is David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything, various Harry Potter films) as Leslie Payne, the Kray's business manager and fixer/arranger for their clubs and more legitimate dealings. Emily Browning (Sucker Punch, The Uninvited), however, is lumbered by being made something of an questionable narrator of events as Frances Shea, Reggie's girlfriend and later wife, and while given a lot of exposition to relate, is never really developed as a believable character.

It's a pity that Helgeland didn't follow Pearson's book more closely, not only for accuracy and perspective but also because there are a lot of anecdotes about the Krays that would've made for great scenes and a much better film. If you really want to get a handle on who the Krays were and what they were like, I strongly recommend Pearson's book.

Recommended for Tom Hardy's impressive double performance as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray, but something of a mixed bag otherwise.


The Big Short [Blu-ray]
The Big Short [Blu-ray]
Price: $22.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Tell me the difference between stupid and illegal and I'll have my wife's brother arrested.", January 1, 2016
This review is from: The Big Short [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Directed by Adam McKay (The Other Guys, Anchorman) from a screenplay by Charles Randolph (The Interpreter) and McKay based on the book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis, The Big Short is a film that is truly worth catching for anyone who wants to understand what led to the collapse of the US housing market in 2007 and the subsequent global financial meltdown that followed. It focuses on a handful of disparate characters who, for various reasons, were the only ones who saw it coming and knew what it meant, but also saw it as an opportunity to make a _lot_ of money.

I don't want to say too much about the plot because a lot of what makes the film work is how it lays everything out, introducing the various characters who were the ones who saw what was happening, showing what they saw and then explaining what it meant, frequently with hilarious bits of narrative exposition and commentary done with a mix of authorities like economist Richard Thayler and highly unexpected cameos from celebrities like Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain. There is a lot of serious stuff laid out in The Big Short, but McKay leavens it with a fair amount of humor without ever losing sight of just how high the stakes were and how devastating the consequences would be, not for the parties responsible but for millions of ordinary Americans who ended up buried in the fallout.

It has a highly talented cast, many of whom give standout performances likely to garner them nominations at Academy Award time. Christian Bale (American Hustle, The Fighter) is Michael Burry, the eccentric hedge fund manager who in 2005 began looking into financial instruments that consisted of bundles of mortgages and was the first to realize that a huge percentage of the underlying mortgages were actually sub-prime mortgages with increasing levels of default. And who realizes that this is an opportunity to make a major bet against the housing market, something consider lunacy by virtually everyone else at the time. Ryan Gosling (Drive, Half-Nelson) is Jared Vennett, an investor who gets wind of Burry's investigations and decides that Burry is right and starts his own drive to take advantage of the situation. Steve Carrell (Foxcatcher, The Way Way Back) is a complete scene stealer as over the top in-your-face market trader Mark Baum who accidentally learns about Vennett is doing and becomes curious, to the point of actually sending his team to look at the actual properties and people involved at the most basic level of these sub-prime mortgages. And last but not least, Brad Pitt (Moneyball, 12 Years a Slave) is quietly effective as retired banker Ben Rickert who gets involved and ends up reminding his associates (and the audience) that there are real-life consequences to what we're seeing and that a lot of people are going to be hurt when doomsday finally arrives and the bubble they're all betting against finally bursts.

Highly recommended not only for the fine performances and sharp-edged humor but also for its surprising ability to show what led up to the housing and mortgage market collapse of 2007 and the subsequent global financial meltdown. And how much of it was due to greed, stupidity and out and out fraud and collusion. And how, in the end, nothing was fixed.


Trumbo [DVD]
Trumbo [DVD]
DVD ~ Bryan Cranston
Price: $19.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding performances bring to life a dark period of American history and what life was like for those who had to endure it, December 28, 2015
This review is from: Trumbo [DVD] (DVD)
Directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) from a screenplay by John McNamara (Eyes, Fastlane) adapted from the book Dalton Trumbo by Bruce Cook, Trumbo is the story of Dalton Trumbo, one of the most brilliant screenwriters Hollywood ever produced, who was blacklisted in the 1940's and 50's because of his refusal to cooperate with the Congressional investigation/witch-hunt for communists in the movie industry.

It would take a long time to properly explain the situation what existed in the US in the period following the end of WWII and the Cold War that took its place. The short version is that in those years the US succumbed to a paranoia that communists in America were all agents for the Soviet Union and were working to undermine and eventually overthrow democracy here, and because of that anyone who had ever been a communist or had ever associated with anyone who was a communist was deemed suspect. A particular focus of this paranoia came to bear on Hollywood where it was believed communists were using the film industry to subtly spread communist propaganda. As a result, Congress, specifically the House Un-American Activities Committee, subpoenaed ten screenwriters suspected of communist involvement to testify as part of their investigation. Trumbo was one of those ten. Feeling that the investigation was a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of expression, the "Hollywood Ten" as they came to be known refused to cooperate, which resulted in them ultimately being fined and sent to prison for contempt of Congress. They were also "blacklisted" in Hollywood which made it impossible for them to find employment. Their treatment caused others who were later subpoenaed to be more cooperative and many ended up giving up names of people they knew or suspected of involvement with the communist party, including friends and associates in the film industry that they had known and worked with for years. It was a very dark time and many people's lives and careers were destroyed as a result. This film does a good job of showing what that involved, how it worked, and how it made people turn on each other out of fear. And how some people unscrupulously manipulated that atmosphere of fear for their own purposes.

The direction and screenwriting in Trumbo are, to be honest, workmanlike, adequate to the task of conveying events but seldom hitting the high bar in terms of really moving you. The performances are what really make Trumbo work. A lot of attention has been paid - deservedly - to Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Malcolm in the Middle)'s audaciously eloquent and increasingly driven Dalton Trumbo and Helen Mirren (Hitchcock, The Queen) 's superficially patriotic but insidiously venomous Hedda Hopper, but there are a number of other supporting performances that really flesh things out and give depth and feeling to the people caught up in this turbulent period and how they reacted to it. Diane Lane (Unfaithful, Under the Tuscan Sun) does a fine job as Cleo Trumbo, Dalton's quietly supportive but pushed-to-her-limits wife. Elle Fanning (Super 8, Maleficent) shines as the teenaged Niki Trumbo who chafes and ultimately rebels at the way her father's life has consumed everyone else's in the family, only for them both to realize that she's very much cut from the same stubborn moral mold as he is. Veteran character actor John Goodman particularly stands out as B-movie producer Frank King who hired Trumbo to write for him - admittedly by using various fronts to cover the fact - when no one else would give him work. Goodman delivers King in grand form, stealing every scene he's in and has some of the best scenes and lines in the film. Dean O'Gorman (The Hobbit) does an excellent job portraying the actor Kirk Douglas who was instrumental in helping end the blacklist by openly giving Trumbo writing credit for his epic film Spartacus. And Christian Berkel (Inglourious Bastards, Downfall) does an equally excellent job as the imperious director Otto Preminger who was also instrumental in ending the blacklist by openly giving Trumbo writing credit for his film Exodus.

One exception to the overall fine performances however is Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire, A Serious Man) as Edward G. "Eddie" Robinson. An otherwise fine actor, in Trumbo Stuhlbarg never came across believably as Robinson, in no small part because he completely lacked Robinson's highly distinctive voice and way of speaking, one of the best known and immediately recognizable voices in Hollywood history, even when not doing one of his much imitated gangster roles. Also unfortunately for Stuhlbarg, the script was highly unfair to Robinson as it had him naming names before HUAC, something the real-life Edward G. Robinson never did. Another problem comes from two composite characters, both of whom came across as overdone. Louis C.K. (Louie) plays a screenwriter named Arlen Hird, a more ideological and committed communist in contrast to Trumbo's socially conscious one, and Roger Bart (Desperate Housewives) plays an opportunistic producer named Buddy Ross who caves under pressure to the blacklist. There was no need for composite characters when so many real-life figures were available to use, and as written these characters seem to exist solely to spout dialogue and feel distinctly out of place among all of the real-life people being portrayed in the film.

On the plus side, Trumbo makes effective use of actual film footage and radio recordings from the period of statements and testimonies given by major Hollywood and political figures on both sides, from the infamous Senator Joe McCarthy and Ronald Reagan when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild to Lucille Ball, Gregory Peck and JFK.

Highly recommended for its outstanding performances and for bringing to the screen what it was like for people who were blacklisted during that shameful period of American history.


Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days
Ms. Marvel Vol. 4: Last Days
by G. Willow Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.63
69 used & new from $8.92

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "There is only one way to face the end of the world in New Jersey -- with a dance party!", December 19, 2015
Written by G. Willow Wilson with art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring, Ms. Marvel: Last Days - the 4th volume in the Ms. Marvel series - is arguably the best one yet, which is something considering that I loved the first three volumes.

It's the Last Days of Marvel's Secret Wars story arc and the Incursion has come to New Jersey. And to Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, who doesn't know what's happening, only that it's something that seems to threaten the very existence of everything and everyone she holds near and dear. There is some truly extraordinary story-telling by Wilson that seems to touch all bases: friends, family, hopes, dreams, regrets, discoveries, secrets we only thought we were keeping, and most importantly, what we choose to do with our time when it seems like time is running out. And why it matters.

On a side note, one of the things that I really like about Alphona's art is the way he draws his characters, from the way they look like real people would look to the ways in which their faces are marvelously expressive at conveying myriad emotions. But I especially like - and appreciate - that unlike so many other comics artists, Alphona's women look the way real women would look in the outfits they wear. Captain Marvel makes an appearance in this volume and I could swear that I've never seen her drawn more realistically, in particular her body proportions and distribution. There's one frame in particular that has Kamala and Captain Marvel standing on a rooftop, seen from behind as they look out over the city. You see it and it hits you: yes, _this_ is the way two female superheroes would look when seen from that angle. It may seem like a little thing to some people, but it subtly adds to the feeling that this comic is something different from the old way of doing things.

Collects Ms. Marvel issues #16-19 with additional material from Amazing Spider-man issues #7-8.

Highly, highly recommended.


Grandma
Grandma
DVD ~ Lily Tomlin
Price: $19.99

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended., December 18, 2015
This review is from: Grandma (DVD)
Directed and written by Paul Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie), Grandma is a quirky little comedy-drama made on a shoestring budget but with some truly stellar talents involved. Structured in "chapters", it takes place in a single day but deals with things in the characters' lives that go back decades, showing that life is not a thread but a tapestry of many threads that end up woven together. Whether they want to be or not.

Elle Reid (marvelously played by Lily Tomlin) is a lesbian poet who's going through a lot in her life. The film begins with her ending a four-month relationship she's been having with a younger woman named Oliva (Judy Greer) because she hasn't really gotten over the recent death of her life partner, a woman with whom she shared decades together. No sooner does she finish dealing with that awkward parting than her eighteen-year-old grand-daughter Sage (Julia Garner) shows up at her door to tell her that she's pregnant and needs $630 for an abortion. Which is a problem because Elle is flat broke (poet not being a high-income profession to say the least) and Sage has had her credit cards cancelled by her disapproving control-freak mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden). So the day turns into a road trip with Elle taking Sage around in her barely functional heap of a car in a quest to find the money needed for the abortion.

A lot of the best parts - comedic and dramatic - come out through the dialogue as we get to know these seemingly disparate characters. Elle is caustic, over-the-top outspoken and darkly funny, while Sage is more than a little passive and reluctant to assert herself, which drives Elle up the wall. And in between lies Judy, whose presence is felt long before she actually appears, as Elle and Sage bond over their mutual frustration and exasperation with the difficult mother/daughter who links them together.

A lot of what makes Grandma work is its very talented cast. Nat Wolff (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars) is appropriately self-centered and responsibility-averse as Cam, Sage's boyfriend and impregnator. Sam Elliott (Justified, The Big Lebowski) does an intricately nuanced turn as Karl, a man with some highly mixed history with Elle which comes as a complete surprise to Sage. Elizabeth Peña (Resurrection Blvd, Lone Star) as Elle's friend Carla shows how friends aren't always who you thought they were when it comes to money. Julia Garner (Martha Marcy May Marlene) brings out Sage's awkwardness both physically and emotionally, a young woman who's really still a girl but is having to take a crash course in making a woman's decisions. Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River, Pollack) has less screen time to make her character Judy felt, but she pulls it off in firm masterful strokes, quickly bringing out hard-driving Judy's take-charge my-way-or-else approach to life but still managing to show that beneath her harsh exterior she does still care - if she can only back off long enough to show it. And then there's Lily Tomlin (The West Wing, The Late Show, Nashville) who gives Grandma its center with Elle's tough outspoken persona softened by revelations showing that much as she'd like to pretend otherwise, she has her share of issues that never really got resolved either.

Interesting note: the car that Elle drives in the movie is actually Lily Tomlin's own 1955 Dodge Royal that she bought back in 1975 for $1,500. According to Tomlin "It's not a prize car. It's not a car that people yearn for. But it has a nice look to it. The car is almost a character in the movie. I knew I kept that car for a reason."

At 79 minutes, Grandma is not as long as most feature films, but it makes good use of its time and the pace, while measured, never lags or loses your interest. You quickly become immersed in Elle and Sage's situation and in their lives. The film has a very intimate feel to it but avoids being sentimental, showing that family is often a prickly complex thing. And that there's a lot of truth to the poet Robert Frost's famous observation "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

Highly recommended.


Carol
Carol
DVD ~ Cate Blanchett
Price: $17.99

43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegantly done, beautifully filmed story with standout performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, December 17, 2015
This review is from: Carol (DVD)
Directed by Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven) from a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy (Mrs. Harris) based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patrician Highsmith, Carol is a film that is hard to categorize because it works on a number of levels, as a character study of two very different people who transform each other, as a period piece (1952 New York City), and as a romance from a time when gay people had to use an unspoken language of looks and gestures to convey things under the public radar and even that of friends and family.

It's the Christmas shopping season in New York City in 1952. An aspiring young photographer, Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is working as seasonal help in the toy department of an upscale department store in Manhattan when a customer, an older and obviously well-to-do woman name Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) asks for her help in selecting a Christmas gift for her daughter. There is an immediate chemistry between the two, felt by both but limited to moments in glances. After purchasing a toy train set on Therese's recommendation, Carol seemingly forgets her gloves, leaving them on the counter, which Therese finds and ends up mailing to Carol's home in New Jersey. Each has thoughts later, unspoken but clearly working beneath the surface in the expressions on their faces when they're alone.

As the film progresses, we learn that Carol is going through a nasty divorce from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) with the predictably bitter fighting over custody of their daughter Rindy (Sadie & Kk Heim). Upon receiving her gloves from Therese, and in need of someone simply to talk to, Carol invites Therese to lunch. Again we see the chemistry at work between the two, obviously felt but unspoken, cautiously danced around but never approached, because that's the way things were back then, when acknowledgement could cost Carol custody of her daughter and Therese any chance at having a career. Not to mention her relationship with her boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacey) who rapidly becomes jealous of the increasing amount of time Therese wants to spend with Carol.

The performances are excellent all around, but Blanchett's and Mara's nonetheless stand out, to the point that both have already garnered a number of award nominations and seem certain to pick up Academy Award nominations as well. They each have different tasks as their characters are in truth so very different, coming at this relationship from not only different ages and levels of understanding and experience but also from different social and economic standings as well as aspirations in life. There is a well-played out delicacy and tentativeness in their early encounters, so much having to be conveyed almost intuitively because so much depends on the actresses bringing out their characters feelings without the benefit of simple dialogue, and Blanchett and Mara handle this beautifully.

Also worth mentioning are Edward Lachman (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There)'s lush and textured cinematography and the atmospheric musical score by Carter Burwell (True Grit, Fargo) that add a layer of feeling and emotion to the interactions taking place on the screen.

Note: an interesting film for comparison is High Art (1998) which also involves a relationship between two women, one of them a photographer, also set in New York City but over four decades later when social attitudes were decidedly different but relationships were still just as tricky to maneuver.

Highly, highly recommended for its stellar performances and for capturing what life was like for these two women - and countless others like them - in that place and time.


Legend
Legend
DVD ~ Tom Hardy
Price: $16.99

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bravura double performance by Tom Hardy as Reggie and Ronnie Kray, but otherwise something of a mixed bag, December 11, 2015
This review is from: Legend (DVD)
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (A Knight's Tale, L.A. Confidential) and adapted from the book by John Pearson (The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins), Legend is a film about the notorious Reggie and Ronnie Kray, twin brothers who came to dominate organized crime in London of the 1950's and 60's.

The film begins somewhere in the early 1960's when Reggie and Ronnie Kray (both played by Tom Hardy in a bravura double performance) were already established gangsters in London's East End but not yet the heads of organized crime they were to become. Reggie's main rivals are the Richardson brothers, but before he can deal with them he has to get his brother Ronnie out of a psychiatric hospital where he's been confined for his violent behavior. At the same time, he begins a relationship with a girl named Frances (Emily Browning), the younger sister of one of his henchmen, Frank Shea (Colin Morgan). When Reggie succeeds in getting Ronnie's release over the deep misgivings of the attending psychiatrist, Dr. Humphries (Nicholas Farrell), Humphries takes Reggie aside and warns him "Your brother Ron is violent and psychopathic and I suspect he's paranoid schizophrenic... to put it simply he's off his f[***]ing rocker!". He then hands Reggie a bottle of pills and desperately urges him "Make sure he takes these... or there'll be serious trouble!"

We soon see why Reggie wanted Ronnie free before confronting the Richardsons. Ronnie may be crazy, but he's absolutely fearless and capable of dishing out extreme violence in abundance, "a one-man mob" as Frances puts it in her narration. Not that Reggie is any slouch in that department. He's more polished and controlled - and certainly more sane - but beneath that surface he's just as capable of dealing out brutal violence as Ronnie.

But as impressive as Hardy's performances are, the film itself is decidedly uneven, particularly in the focus and the pacing, and as a bio-pic it falls short both in terms of the accuracy of the events it depicts and in some of the chronology. No effort is made to bring out any of the Kray's upbringing, or their early budding careers as boxers, or their telling experience in national service which was an early indicator of where they were heading in life. And no effort is made to give any perspective on the real nature - let alone extent - of their criminal organization, The Firm, how they made their money, and the grip it had on the London criminal scene.

It also fails to make good use of some of the other fine actors in the film. Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who, Heroes, Elizabeth)'s Detective "Nipper" Read, is given very little to do except to give reaction shots and deliver stock lines like "We're going after the Krays." Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander, A Knight's Tale) is all but invisible as Kray rival Charlie Richardson. Chazz Palminteri (Bullets over Broadway, The Usual Suspects) comes across as flat and half-there in his two brief scenes as the American Mafioso Angelo Bruno who partners up with the Krays. Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Testament of Youth) has maybe four lines and a few knowing smirks and manic giggles as Edward "Mad Teddy" Smith, one of Ronnie Kray's gangster cronies who was, like him, gay and more than a bit mental. In truth, about the only other actor who gets any decent screen-time and dialogue is David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything, various Harry Potter films) as Leslie Payne, the Kray's business manager and fixer/arranger for their clubs and more legitimate dealings. Emily Browning (Sucker Punch, The Uninvited), however, is lumbered by being made something of an questionable narrator of events as Frances Shea, Reggie's girlfriend and later wife, and while given a lot of exposition to relate, is never really developed as a believable character.

It's a pity that Helgeland didn't follow Pearson's book more closely, not only for accuracy and perspective but also because there are a lot of anecdotes about the Krays that would've made for great scenes and a much better film. If you really want to get a handle on who the Krays were and what they were like, I strongly recommend Pearson's book.

Recommended for Tom Hardy's impressive double performance as both Reggie and Ronnie Kray, but something of a mixed bag otherwise.


Bird Box: A Novel
Bird Box: A Novel
by Josh Malerman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.94
57 used & new from $7.03

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine unique wine of a horror novel, where every sip will give you the cold shivers, November 28, 2015
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This review is from: Bird Box: A Novel (Paperback)
Bird Box by John Malerman is absolutely one of the most tensely claustrophobic horror novels I've ever read. Some horror is based on fear of things you see. And some horror is based on fear of things you don't see. Bird Box has a different kind of horror going on - a fear of things that you must not see.

Malorie lives in rural Michigan, in a run-down house with two small children. The three of them have not seen or spoken to another human being in four years. All of the windows and doors have been carefully covered over with blankets, tape, paper, tarps, anything to prevent any possibility of ever glimpsing anything outside the house, even by accident. When Malorie has to go outside, she wears a blindfold tied tightly in place. The children sleep with blindfolds in carefully covered pens. Because there are _things_ out there, and to see them, even for a second, means madness and painful torturous death. But the day has come when Malorie and the two children must leave the house, feel their way to a boat on the river, and then blindly make their way down the river, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, there's a place of safety that still exists in the world.

The chapters alternate, sometimes in the present, more often in the past as we learn about the events of the preceding five years that led to Malorie's current situation. A lot of what makes Bird Box work is the atmosphere Malerman creates for the reader where he immerses you into a world where there's something out there, something that if seen, even by accident, even for a second, results in murderous insanity and death. Something that no one knows what it looks like because no one who sees it, even indirectly, survives intact to describe it. And you can feel Malorie's mounting apprehension early on in flashbacks as the outside world grows more and more ominous:

"It is six months before the children are born. Malorie is showing. Blankets cover every window in the house. The front door is never left unlocked and never left open. Reports of unexplainable events have been surfacing with an alarming frequency. What was once breaking news twice a week now develops every day. Government officials are interviewed on television. Stories from as far east as Maine, as far south as Florida, have both sisters now taking precautions. Shannon, who visits dozens of blogs daily, fears a mishmash of ideas, a little bit of everything she reads. Malorie doesn't know what to believe. New stories appear hourly online. It's the only thing anybody talks about on social media and it's the only topic on the news pages. New websites are devoted entirely to the evolution of information on the subject. One site features only a global map, with small red faces placed upon the cities in which something occurred. Last time Malorie checked, there were more than three hundred faces. Online, they are calling it 'the Problem.' There exists the widespread communal belief that whatever 'the Problem' is, it definitely begins when a person _sees_ something.
-- Malorie resisted believing it as long as she could. The sisters argued constantly, Malorie citing the pages the derided mass hysteria, Shannon citing everything else. But soon Malorie had to relent, when the pages she frequented began to run stories about their own loved ones, and the authors of these pages stepped forward to admit some concern.
-- Cracks, Malorie thought then. Showing even in the skeptics.
-- Days passed in which Malorie experienced a sort of double life. Neither sister left the house anymore. Both made sure the windows were covered. They watched CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News until they physically couldn't watch the same stories repeating themselves. And while Shannon grew more serious, and even grave, Malorie held on toe a pinch of hope that this would all simply go away.
-- But it didn't. And it got worse.
-- Three months into living like shut-ins, Malorie and Shannon's worse fears came true when their parents stopped answering their phone. They didn't answer e-mails either.
-- Malorie wanted to drive north to the Upper Peninsula. But Shannon refused.
-- "We're just going to have to hope they're being safe, Malorie. We're going to have to hope their phone was shut off. Driving anywhere right now would be dumb. Even to the store, and driving nine hours would be suicide."
-- 'The Problem' always resulted in suicide. Fox News had reported the word so often that they were now using synonyms. 'Self-destruction.' 'Self-immolation.' 'Hari-Kari.' One anchorman described it as 'personal erasing,' a phrase that did not catch on. Instructions from the government were reprinted on the screen. A national curfew was mandated. People were advised to lock their doors, cover their windows, and, above all, not to look outside. On the radio, music was replaced entirely with discussions.
-- A blackout, Malorie thinks. The world, the outdoors, is being shut down."

What's even more remarkable about Bird Box is that it's Malerman's first novel. It was nominated this year for the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, a nomination that was well deserved.

Highly, highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a novel that will literally make you afraid to look up or turn around.


Bridge of Spies BD + DVD + Digital [Blu-ray]
Bridge of Spies BD + DVD + Digital [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Tom Hanks
Price: $26.99
19 used & new from $20.24

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly engaging telling of an important episode of Cold War history, November 27, 2015
Sometimes you have all the right talents coming together to create a masterpiece of a film. Directed by Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, Schindler's List) from a screenplay by brothers Ethan & Joel Coen (Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?) and Matt Charman (Black Work), with Oscar-caliber performances by Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance and a superb score by Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies is one of those films.

The film begins in 1957 when tensions between the US and the Soviet Union were quickly ratcheting up and both sides were doing everything they could to spy on each other. We first meet an unremarkable-looking man (Mark Rylance) quietly painting a self-portrait in a small drab rented room in Brooklyn, NY. He receives a phone call to which he only listens and says nothing, then hangs up, gathers his painting materials, and heads out to a riverside bench where he proceeds to paint again. But as we watch, we discover that the man is a spy retrieving information that was left for him under the bench, and when he returns to his room, which is promptly raided by the FBI, we then learn as he is arrested that he is a Soviet citizen going under the name Rudolph Abel, one of many names he's used in his work.

The scene then shifts to a law office where one of the firm's senior partners, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is discussing an insurance claim with another lawyer representing claimants in an accident, and we are shown that Donovan is a man who uses words with dogged attention to clarity and precision of meaning as he negotiates how the claim is to be handled, never allowing himself to be distracted from what he perceives to be the heart of the matter. These traits are soon to be tested as he finds out later that he's being asked to defend Rudolph Abel, now the most hated man in the US. Donovan is reluctant to say yes to the request, but in the end his belief in the Constitution's mandate that everyone, no matter what they're accused of, is entitled to a proper legal defense, will not let him say no. And so he meets Abel and begins to prepare his defense, knowing that it will make him the second-most hated man in the US.

The film then moves to introduce the third character in what will become one of the most famous incidents in Cold War history, an Air Force captain named Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) who is being recruited by the CIA to be a pilot in their ultra-secret project to fly specially designed high-altitude U2 spy planes over the Soviet Union and photograph possible nuclear weapons sites. As fate would have it, Powers ends up being shot down on his first mission, captured by the Soviets and then tried as a spy.

All of this gradual build up leads to the central story of the film - how Donovan ends up being the unofficial behind the scenes negotiator between the US and the Soviet Union, who for political reasons cannot be seen to be even talking to each other, for a possible exchange of spies - Abel for Powers - in one of the tensest locations in the Cold War: Berlin, right at the time that the Iron Curtain, particularly the notorious Berlin Wall, is going up. With the additional complication of an American economics student, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) who was also arrested in East Berlin and charged with espionage at the same time, whose case also comes to Donovan's attention. What happens is what makes up the rest of the film and is better simply seen than described in any way here. It is a mark of how well Bridge of Spies was done that you will be completely immersed in the events and the feel of the period, which some older viewers (like myself) may remember but younger generations have only read about.

The performances are all excellent, but Hanks and Rylance are far and away the stand-outs. Hanks (Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Philadelphia) does a masterful job of bringing out Donovan's dogged dedication to both his clients and to what he feels are the principles that make up the foundation of American law and of basic justice. His performance also makes Donovan real as he struggles with the incredible strains of what he is called upon to do, a man thrown into a political battleground at the height of the Cold War and who has to keep a cool head, not only for himself but for the three men whose ultimate fate depends on what he negotiates for them, and for the two world powers edging dangerously close to going from a cold war to a hot one. Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall and a number of acclaimed stage roles) is quietly mesmerizing as the enigmatic Rudolf Abel, a man who seems perpetually imperturbable, resigned to his fate but unswerving from his silent dedication to his cause. But at the same time Rylance makes Abel human as well, aided by the superbly written dialogue between Abel and Donovan that the Coen brothers and Mark Charman provided them with.

One minor quibble I have with the film is that the way it unfolds gives the impression that the events being depicted happened fairly close together over a seeming matter of months or maybe a year when in fact they take place over a five-year period, from 1957 to 1962. This was not intentional on the part of the film-makers, but it is the impression one receives nonetheless. It won't detract from one's enjoyment of the film, but I feel that it would've served history better to give a sense of the actual amount of time that was passing.

Highly, highly recommended for anyone who appreciates sheer craftsmanship in film making and enjoys a thoroughly engaging telling of an important episode in the history of the Cold War.


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